Last December, we were built to fall apart.
She waited for him yet again. It was Christmas Eve already, and she couldn’t wait to take down her Christmas tree, just for the sake of better organization in her house. She was getting tired of the tree, whether it was miniature or not, taking up the corner in her living room, which was already cramped by her many bookshelves. Maybe she could get Calvin to help her with cleaning up. She might as well teach him a lesson in cleanliness at the same time.
The doorbell rang. She looked at the clock again. He was only five minutes late, which was a major improvement from the first time he picked her up. She grabbed her purse and jacket from her sofa and headed out.
“Hey,” she said as she settled into the car, making sure none of his flyers flew out of the door before she shut it. “When do you think you’re getting rid of these?”
He barely looked at them. “Never. Aren’t you going to greet me first?” Without letting her respond, he leaned over and kissed her, cupping her chin gently. When he was done, she had lost track of everything that she meant to say to him earlier. Sighing, she closed the door and put on her seatbelt.
The road to his apartment was familiar to her now. In the dark, she watched the buildings pass by with some interest, the graffiti a blur of colors that she wished she could read. She didn’t understand why Calvin didn’t find the story behind the colors fascinating the way she viewed them—she was alone in that. But she couldn’t fix his views now. Especially not now when she knew him this way.
They arrived and parked with little ceremony. She joined him in the elevator, where he took her hand and squeezed it, as if to say, Don’t worry; you’re with me now. She appreciated it, so, so much more than he would ever know.
He led her out of the elevator into the hallway, where he paused to unlock the door. As soon as he was done, she rushed into the apartment in a flurry, throwing herself onto his couch. He came after her, seating himself more leisurely, and slung an arm over her shoulders. “I’m beginning to think that you only want my couch. That’s a little insulting.”
She popped a big, sloppy kiss on his lips. “Don’t worry, babe. There’s plenty of space for you in my heart.”
He rolled his eyes, but she knew he cared.
She cared too.
They were in his bed now. She didn’t know how long they had taken, but she didn’t need to know. She was tired enough already. Opening her eyes, she kissed his chest and relaxed on her side. “So?”
He turned his head to the clock on his nightstand. “We should have waited, Hay. It’s only ten. What are we supposed to do now?”
“Plenty of things. We can start again…”
“You’re starting to sound like me, babe. That’s not a good thing.”
She smiled and sat up, slipping her legs from the covers. Turning her back to him and slipping on a sweater—his sweater—she said, “Do you want dinner? I can order some takeout right now if you want.”
“No, come on”—he pulled her back in bed—“are you really hungry anyway? We can start over again…”
“Stop repeating me.”
“Stop repeating me.”
She rolled her eyes and acquiesced, slinging her arm over his chest. “We’ve got to do something else eventually.”
“We are.” He reached out to the nightstand. “I’ve got—”
“I’m being serious, Calvin.”
He rolled his eyes this time, taking out a camera. “You really don’t trust me, do you?” He snapped a picture of her right there. She spent a couple seconds blinking from the flash before reacting by snatching it from him.
“You do all sorts of things,” she justified herself. Then she snapped a picture of him as he lay spread out under the sheets, his unruly hair especially messy. “How’s that for something else to do?”
“Stop messing with me.” He took the camera back. “It’s a vintage. I can’t have you messing with my baby, too.” He kissed her cheek. “Don’t take it personally.”
She settled into his side, eyes closing. He really knew what he was doing with her, because she usually was never tired at this hour. College had drilled later bedtimes into her head. But she could sleep any time when she was with him, whether it was because of his presence or their… activities.
She felt his fingers playing with her hair. And all of a sudden, a flash interrupted the darkness. When she opened her eyes, she was a bit too late. The picture was done and over with.
“Hey,” she murmured half-heartedly. “Don’t take pictures of me while I’m looking like a dead fish.” She reached out for the camera, which he held away from her playfully.
He shook his head. “I won’t stop, and no, you don’t look like a dead fish. So—” He took another picture of her.
And that was when she really leapt out of bed, laughing as she chased his arm for the camera. The entire time, he snapped pictures of her, darting around his bedroom with the sort of agility that she associated with a basketball player, to which he had denied earlier. The pictures fell everywhere.
No matter how ridiculous we are, she thought a little sadly, at least he'll remember if I ever leave him.
It was almost midnight now. They had already changed back into their clothes. Now, she was truly tired from all their frolicking, and what she really needed was dinner, which she had missed with him. As they reclined on his couch, his fingers lazily trailed up and down her body. God, he was making her feel all sorts of feelings that she thought she wouldn’t experience, at least not until she had found the love of her life, who he could be. Maybe this sort of heady feeling was what she had always needed. Maybe this was how she wanted to live her life—reckless and carefree, not careful and calculated the way she had always known it to be..
“Mm,” she hummed when he kissed her ear. “What’s up?”
“I think I’m hungry now.”
“You read my mind.” She sat up from his lap, reaching for his phone lying on the coffee table. “What’s your passcode?”
“I’ll do it.” He reached for his phone, and with some hesitation, she handed it over to him. Yes, maybe she was nosy. Yes, maybe she should back off a little more. She watched as he entered it in quickly, gracefully even.
Maybe he was lying to me about not being an athlete, she thought idly.
His phone rang loudly, startling the both of them. She frowned as she watched him answer it apologetically. She mouthed playfully, “Why is your ringtone set so loud?”
He mouthed back, “I like it loud. I like you loud, too.”
She flushed, but she sunk into a reverie as she waited for him to finish up. Who could be calling at this hour? Granted, it was Christmas Eve, but it was 11:40 p.m. Certainly the caller could have chosen to call earlier or much later on Christmas morning.
She watched as the spark in his eyes died out slowly. She frowned more emphatically and laid a hand on his arm. But he stopped her with a glance, turning his head toward the ground as he listened to the speaker.
She could barely hear what the person was saying over the phone. From her tone of voice, however, Hailey knew something was up. And it wasn’t necessarily good. No, it couldn’t be good. His face was unusually pale, and he hadn’t said anything for the few minutes that he had been taking the call. That wasn’t right. He wasn’t a very taciturn person, especially not on the phone.
She occupied herself with staring at the rug on the ground under his coffee table. But soon enough, she was sure it wasn’t enough to take up her attention. Not now. She couldn’t focus on something as inane as the geometric patterns on a rug now.
After what seemed like an eternity, he hung up, his hand shaking as he muttered, “Bye.” Immediately, his eyes closed. He didn’t open them for a long time.
She let him lie there, but she knew he had to open them before something—whatever he had just heard on the phone—could kill him inside. She shook his shoulder. “Hey,” she whispered. “Is everything okay?”
“No.” And then, in a flash, much like the flash of a camera, he was sitting up and he was far, far away from her on the couch. “Nothing’s okay.”
She watched him, her mouth slightly open. He continued, standing up and pacing around his coffee table, while he kept eye contact with her the entire time. “I don’t think I can do this anymore,” he said roughly. “And neither can you.”
“What do you mean?” She stood up, following him. But he backed away from her, and she felt like she was chasing a frightened child as he flinched when she could finally touch him again. “What did I do?”
“Everything! Nothing! I don’t know!” The way he hurled words at her as he stumbled around his apartment, scattering books and papers from his kitchen counter all the while, made her stop in her tracks. He wasn’t really angry at her, was he?
She hoped not.
“You’re so infuriating,” he said, his voice low. “Maybe we should stop. I should have listened to you a long time ago. We were moving too quickly. I’m not ready for commitment. You’re just going to be disappointed. We both can’t prepare for disaster. We can’t keep messing around forever.” Turning around, he ran a hand through his hair.
She felt like collapsing onto the ground because oh, her heart, her chest hurt so much. This couldn’t be happening to her now. What had she done? Could it be the fight from last week, for which he and she had already forgiven each other? Had she erred somewhere? She couldn’t do this, too, because he had just voiced every single doubt that she had been harboring ever since they met.
But then she watched as he dropped down onto the ground, his head in his hands, shaking horribly. She rushed to him, pulled his head into her arms, and fought off all his attempts to push her away. She stroked his hair because she felt every single time he shook. Her eyes were only on the lights of the city through his windows as she heard his broken voice mutter something over and over again.
No matter how much he was going to try to stop her, she was going to murder whoever had done this to him.
It struck midnight. She leaned down to his ear and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Calvin.”
He looked up, and it absolutely broke her heart to see a single tear falling down his cheek. She kissed it, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Sh, I’m here,” she said into his ear. “I’m here.”
He put his arms around her waist. In the silence, he said, “I’m sorry.”
“I believe you.”
They sat in the silence. Then he said, “I’m sorry. I can’t stay for Christmas.”
She sighed. “Tell me why.”
“My mother…” His voice broke off. “My mother’s been in an accident.”
“Oh, my God.” She kissed his lips gently and then buried her face in his T-shirt. “Oh, my God.” Not Paula. She was such a sweet woman. This shouldn’t have happened to her, or Calvin, or to any members of their family. Not to her, too. This shouldn’t have happened to Hailey, because she knew what was coming next.
“She’s had a stroke. No one knew it was coming, you know?” Calvin’s shaking hand stroked her head. He took a breath. “God, I don’t understand why. She’s been the health freak of the family; I thought I would die of a heart attack before she would. She’s in the hospital now, and her status is uncertain…”
“They’re not sure she’ll recover completely.”
They sat there for forever. But eventually, he looked up again. “I have to drive upstate tomorrow.”
“I know. I’ll leave.” She stood up. Her legs were wobbly, and all she needed was to sit down and cry. Not now. She had to be strong for both of them.
“No.” He was in front of her all of a sudden, his green eyes pleading. “Please at least stay the night.”
“No,” she said, just as firmly. “You need time to prepare for your drive and I can’t distract you. I can take care of myself.”
He shook his head furiously. “You can’t leave; I need you here.” He caught her wrist. “Please.”
She almost gave in this time. But she steeled herself and said it, even though her voice shook. “You were right. I don’t know where this relationship is going. I want more, but you’re not ready. We need a break.”
His jaw dropped, and he held onto her wrist more insistently. “I was wrong; I didn’t know what I was doing. Please.”
“Not now, Calvin. Your mother needs you more. And, God, I can’t hold you back anymore. I can’t do this.” She pulled her wrist away from him.
As she grabbed her coat from his closet and opened the front door, she couldn’t help looking back at him. Her legs nearly collapsed when she met his glassy green eyes. He smiled bitterly, his knuckles white as he grasped the edge of his dining table. “Merry Christmas, Hailey.”
She stepped out, closing the door behind her. A second later, she fell apart against his front door, sobbing as she felt her chest implode.
I suck at writing emotion, guys. See you tomorrow!